After clearing the endless barren desert, Johann was reintroduced to grass and trees. He had been travelling for a little over two weeks, and according to his map, he was getting close. All he had to do was cross this next mountain and he’d be able to see the city. It wasn’t particularly steep, really it was just a big hill, but Johann at this point was so worn out that it was as if he was climbing Mount Everest. This two week journey was far worse than he imagined. He had never been more than a few miles away from his village before this, but now he had travelled hundreds of miles on foot. He could’ve collapsed at this point, but the anticipation kept him moving. The sun was setting beyond the mountain as the top was getting closer and closer. When he finally reached the peak, his jaw dropped at the sight before him.
As far as his eyes could see, tearing through even mountains, rivers, and oceans, was a city that stretched endlessly into the distance. The city was painted dark grey against the setting sun beyond it and the countless skyscrapers bunched together resembled termite nests. A giant wall surrounded everything. Built from steel and concrete, but only several yards high, it didn’t look like a formidable defense against an army, but an impossible obstacle for any single man. The most baffling part of all, however, was far above the city. Casting a dark shadow below, a massive floating platform that supported a series of opulent palaces shimmering brightly with gold, silver, quartz, and marble.
This was Dis. Johann’s father had told him stories of cities like this, but it was far beyond anything he had ever imagined. He stood there shocked for a long while, basking in the sight until night came and Dis lit up against the infinite darkness. Throughout his entire journey, Johann was always able to look up at the night sky to see the stars. No matter how far he travelled, they were always the same as the ones back home. The starry night sky comforted him and helped ease his homesickness, but now even those were gone. Due to all the new light pollution, the sky above him was now pitch black, and their replacement was Dis’s neverending sea of artificial lights. Not even the moon was present for a shred of natural light.
Reaching the city itself didn’t take too long, but Johann figured it must’ve been around midnight. He figured that it would’ve been wise to sneak in during the dead of night, when security would be more lax.
The wall itself surrounded the entire city. Johann assumed that there must’ve been entrances somewhere, but they were too far for him to see. There were also several guard towers stationed at regular intervals across it, but they were widely spaced apart, so there were still generous blindspots. Or there would’ve been blindspots, but really everywhere was a blindspot. Normally, one would’ve expected there to be spotlights to see any intruders, but there weren’t any at all. Outside the wall was pitch black everywhere. In fact, on closer inspection, the guard towers didn’t even have lookouts outside the city. If they were guard towers at all, they only watched what was going on inside the city.
Ignoring the strange security, Johann equipped the gauntlet he got from Ivan. “Squeeze your hand to fire it, squeeze again to retract it,” he thought to himself as he aimed it at one of the guard towers. As he squeezed his hand, a small hook attached to a thin metal line shot out from it. It latched onto a railing of the guard tower. Johann took a deep breath before squeezing his hand again. With incredible force, he was pulled through the air to where the hook landed. He landed pretty ungracefully, hitting part of the railing and falling in a heap. Even after he practiced extensively on some old ruins, he still hadn’t gotten the hang of it. Now on the wall itself he stood up and got his first up close view of the city. From here, he could really see the bustle. Even this late at night, there was still activity and people were still working. Perhaps it was like how ants are more active during the night. Of course, the bright lights were blinding at this hour, but he couldn’t help but look through his squinted eyes. Comparisons to ants and termites weren’t unfounded. Streets were packed, the people crammed together like sardines. Travelling from one skyscraper to another, each citizen patiently waited in line to pile into a bus that transported them to wherever they needed to be. Back in Flecht, each citizen had plenty of space to themselves. Family’s were big, but houses were big too, so even when a family was huge they weren’t cramped. And because everyone needed a barn and garden, the properties themselves were big which left plenty of space in between each house. Seeing people living like this, he couldn’t imagine how any of them were happy with the way things were.
He took out his father’s photograph and looked at it. The man who resembled Johann in it was actually Johann’s father many years ago. To his right was a beautiful young woman who was Johann’s mother according to his father. To the right of Johann’s mother was a young man a bit younger than Johann with black hair, red eyes, and a mean look. But most importantly, to his father’s left was a middle-aged man with white hair and a deep scar across his cheek. This was the man that Johann's father told him to find. His name was Victor van Detta. His father warned him that he may no longer be alive, but he was the best bet when it came to finding an ally in the city. He’s the owner of DettAI, a technology company that specializes in artificial intelligence. Its headquarters is marked with a giant vertical image of their logo. From the wall, he was able to see it. It was several miles away, but at this point that was just a hop and a skip. Without much hesitation, he went on his way.
He hooked his gauntlet onto a railing and used it to descend down the wall.
He touched down in an empty concrete lot. While this lot was deserted, the hopelessly crowded main street was only a short distance away. From here, Johann was able to get a better look at the people of Dis. The most striking was the fashion. In Flecht, everyone wore similar outfits. It was an unwritten rule that everyone dressed in the same plain outfits. It may seem lame, banal, or even collectivist, but really they were just clothes. They weren’t really meant to individualize people. If anything, the similar look helped people stand out more for their individual traits because their outfits were so unextraordinary, and having this common uniform across the village also certainly helped create a sense of familiarity among everyone. Another strange thing, Johann noted, was the look of everyone. In Flecht, everybody looked similar. It was quite subtle, but still noticeable. You could take any two citizens of Flecht and determine that they were from the same place just based on common features that they shared. However, a similar look didn’t seem to exist among the people of Dis. Everybody looked very different from each other. Each one not only looked to be from a different town, they all looked to be from different countries even. Some could’ve even been from different planets entirely. Not to mention all the advanced technology that amazed him. The electric lights were a huge shock. In Flecht, the only lights were fire and the sun. The buses were impressive too. Back home, horses were the fastest mode of transportation, but they couldn’t carry much, but these buses were huge and could carry dozens of people at a time. Of course, Johann had heard about these sorts of things from his father, but it really was just so different seeing them in real life.
His position was similar to that of an early 1900s farm boy going from his small town without electricity to the big city to make a name for himself.
He fought against the crowds as he made his way to DettAi. Johann thought that he might be too conspicuous wearing his travelling clothes, but nobody paid him any mind. His clothes hardly stood out against all the bizarre fashion, and everybody was far too focussed on getting to their destination to care. The streets really were packed to bursting, but they moved at maximum speed. With everybody moving as fast as possible, a walkway wouldn’t slow down even at max capacity. This ideal had been reached in Dis. Still, he was a visitor, an intruder, an unaccounted variable, so his mere presence threw off the system. As he struggled, he caught a few more glimpses of the city. He was quite struck by the advertisements. Some were just showing off products, but the stranger ones showed off what were referred to as “Gods.”
These “Gods” resembled the demons Johann had encountered before. Their skin was a myriad of unnatural colors, they had inhuman features such as horns, fangs, wings, or claws, and their eyes were dark and soulless, but they were much more pleasing to the eyes than the demons he had seen. They resembled statues. The men had muscular builds and the women had ample bosoms and rears, but to Johann, calling such creatures Gods was blasphemy.
Apparently, these Gods were the ones who ran society and lived in the palaces above Dis. The Gods owned all of the industry, ran the government, and created art. With so much control of the world, perhaps ‘Gods’ was the right term.
It was just past two when Johann finally arrived at DettAI. Somehow, there were still people on the streets, but things were finally starting to die down. The DettAI building was huge, bigger than many of the other buildings, and its design looked to be done as a commission by an avant-garde artist hired to create the most futuristic building ever. Johann was a bit nervous just waltzing into such a building, but it was still open despite the hour, so he eventually worked up the courage to walk in. He approached the secretary, an older woman, behind the desk. Van Detta was a very busy and important man. Without a serious reputation under one’s belt, there would be no hope in meeting him. However, the last note that Johann’s father left him was a passcode.
“Who are the Gods?”
The secretary sat baffled for a moment, as if she never expected to hear that phrase, before responding, “The Gods are demons plain as day.”
She got up from her chair and said to Johann, “Come with me,” before leading him deeper into the building.